*Unexpected & Unpredictable Evening*
This is a story about my grampa. The one that died at the beginning of August. There are alot of good survival, communication and Search & Rescue points in it. That night changed my life and my family's life forever. This is very long and in depth.
Thanksgiving Eve 2001 was an ordinary Wednesday evening so I thought. I decided to go to Ellsworth (40 miles West of my house) to do some shopping. Needed some new pants, food and some fun stuff. I figured that since my parent's house was on the way I'd stop and pick up my kid sister Becky. She was 11 at the time and loved/still loves to spend time with big brother. Kentucky Fried Chicken is her favorite place and I figured I'd take her there to eat.
I left home and headed out. Stopped in Cherryfield to pick Becky up. It was about 4:45pm and getting dusk. I arrived at mom and dad's and went in to get her. Mom came downstairs and said "Don't go anywhere, it sounds like there's something wrong at gramma & grampa’s." Dad went upstairs to talk on the phone to gramma and hollered down "Don't leave!!!" A couple minutes later he came downstairs and said "Grampa hasn't come back from hunting yet." All of our hearts sunk. Grampa was 75 and had alzheimers pretty bad, but he loved the woods and hunting, there was no stopping him. God only knew where he was. Dad said that he told grandma that he was going to the "1000 road", but is that where he actually wound up?
Dad and I got into the BOV and went down to the gas station. I filled it right to the rim and then we went and picked up grandma. We headed out to the "1000 road" approximately 8 miles out of town. We had 2 meter ham radio contact with mom and kept her updated on the happenings. At this point in time she hadn't called the rest of the family. Didn't want to cause alarm yet. She went down to their house just incase he came home, she could get ahold of us and let us know. It never happened.
We arrived at the "1000 road" and drove in to the gravel pit. His truck was there and it was cold. There were footprints all around it, there was no gun inside and his orange vest wasn't inside, meaning he was still in the woods. It's dark by this time and all there is is moonlight. The 3 of us followed his footprints by flashlight up the side of the gravel pit and to the woods line. I hollered and hollered, but never heard anything for him. We started forming the game plan. Then a gunblast echoed through the woods. It was definitly a 30-30, I climbed back up the pit and drew my P-90. I fired a round into the ground, he fired again, then I fired 3 more times so that he'd know there was somebody coming for him. I went back down into the pit and started gearing up. I told gramma and dad that I was going in after him. Gramma says "like hail you are, I'm comin' with you!" She's 72!!!, but she's a tough old bird. There was no way I was going to tell her no. She grabbed her flashlight. I grabbed my maglite, extra mags, extra ammo, sweatshirt, BDU jacket, EMT gear and my portable radio. I have 2 radios in the BOV so I set the 2-meter rig up on an odd-ball frequency and showed dad how to use it. The other is my fire, ambulance, police and everything else radio. We did a radio check and then gramma and I headed out.
I fired a round and when he answered we headed in that direction. The going was horrible. There was alot of underbrush and blowdowns. Alot of obstructions such as rocks, holes, gulleys etc. I'm thinking that he can't be that far in the woods. He was very lame and had a hard time just getting around the dooryard, there was no way he was way out in the woods....BOY WAS I WRONG!!
Every little ways I fired a round and he'd answer...made probably 50+ course changes that night. I was 20 at the time and grew up in the woods. I could cover alot of ground even at night. I kept stopping and flashing the light back so that gramma could see where I was. After she hollered that she saw me I'd take off. I was keeping an eye on the moon and using it to figure direction of travel. I could hear traffic going by on Route 182..probably 1.5 miles away as the crow flies. The area we were in was quarantined between Long Pond, Route 182 and the 1000 road. No matter where we wound up I could figure out roughly where we were. Total area is probably 400-500 acres. Time was going by so fast. Dad called me on the radio and asked "yeah Eli, where are you?" I replied "I have no idea, somewhere between the pond and 182, still no contact." "Well, you're 20 minutes out of the pit." he said. I did as little transmitting as possible because I knew the battery was getting weak. It was probably 10 minutes later of pounding through the woods shooting that we were finally within voice range of him. He hollered to me and said he was "ok and on the ground" I hollered something to the effect of "grampa, me and gramma are coming after you!!!" A few minutes later we found him.
He was hunkered down leaning against a big tree. He was damp and cold from the evening dew. I took all my shirts off except for my t-shirt and covered him. Grandma did the same, our adrenaline was keeping us warm. Grampa said that he had fallen and hurt his right leg at about 1:30pm....it's now about 5:40pm. He said he thought it was a pulled muscle. I radioed out to dad and let him know we had found him alive, but he wasn't in that good of shape. I tried to contact the Sheriff's Office on my handheld, but had no luck. The nearest comms tower was almost 20 miles away and I'm way down in the woods and in another county. I got ahold of dad and told him how to use my cell-phone and how to contact the Sheriff's Office. I said, get an ambulance and as much manpower as possible, we're gonna have to lug him out of here. He complied.
I started scraping up some pine needles and tinder. Gramma was comforting grampa. He had tried to get a fire going, but lacked the strength to crawl around to get wood. I got a hellacious fire going. Fire is such a good friend. We had light, heat and security. Then bad news strikes.
Dad radios to me that he can't contact the Sheriff's Office via cell-phone, but he did get ahold of Becky at home and she was going to call mom and have her call. I told him that we didn't have time to mess with that. I instructed him how to use my other radio. I told him how to get to "Region 8" one of our county's frequencies. I said use my call # and tell them you are calling for me, tell them what's going on and anything they want to know. I tuned my radio to Region 8 and was able to hear him call it in. I also figured once the dispatcher heard somebody else using my call # they'd figure out that something was wrong. Once he made contact I heard the dispatcher's voice. It was Dan...thank GOD. I was never more happy to hear his voice. Dad said.."I'm calling for Eli, he's in the woods with a man down." He ended with "do you copy, over?"..Dad is a Vietnam vet and knows how to talk on a radio...his life has depended on it in the past. Pass the traffic accurately, pass is clearly and ensure that the receiver understands the message. Dan replies "I copied, go ahead." Dan threw all the 10 codes out the window and went to speaking plain English. Dad passes the traffic We are at the 1000 road on Route 182 in Hancock County. Eli needs an ambulance and as much manpower as possible to lug an injured hunter out of the woods. They're ok, but need help. After every couple of sentences he'd end with "did you copy, over". Dad passed all the info I wanted him to clearly and accurately. I then instructed dad to drive out to the main road and turn on all the strobe lights to ensure that the responding departments didn't miss the road in the darkness.
After about 15 minutes passed by, dad radios to me..."Eli, you got a helluva a crew coming in after you." I asked who. He rattled off, Tony, Barry, Garry, Dave, Little Joe and some ambulance crew. Those men are members of the Cherryfield Volunteer Fire Dept. I started out as a firefighter on the dept with them before I moved out of town. When I heard those names, I knew that we were all going to be ok. I never heard Dan tone out the Cherryfield Fire Dept on my fire pager due to my location, but I can imagine the announcement went something like this "For the Cherryfield Fire Dept, you have a request from Eli to respond to the 1000 road on Route 182 to assist in carrying a man down out of the woods. There is someone standing by at the 1000 road." It was most likely something to that affect.
My handheld was getting weaker and weaker. I told dad "If my radio dies, between grampa and me I have plenty of ammo and will shoot every 2-3 minutes. We're ok." He said "ok".
Now there was nothing, but time. Help was on the way, it's now just a waiting game. I was able to concentrate more on grampa. I got the story of what happened and how he planned to try and get out of the woods come daylight. He was determined to make it, but my evaluation of the situation and condition he was in, he probably wouldn't have lived to midnight due to hypothermia. Moral was good that night. We were laughing, having fun and cracking jokes. It was just like a grandson/grandparent's campout. We were actually having a good time despite the grave situation. Moral is a big key in a situation like that.
In a few minutes I heard voices on my fire pager. I figured out real quick that the rescue party was using County Fire as their comms frequency. My LUCKY break. I got back on my handheld and tuned it to County Fire. I called Tony. What a relief, comms with the rescuers. Everybody had a radio. I told Tony I had a rough idea where I was, but what does that matter in the dark, in the woods, with no GPS and such? Just because he thinks he knows where we are don't mean squat without a effective way of getting there. I said "Tony, my battery's about dead, but I can hear everybody on my pager, so if I can't talk to you, just talk to me and I'll hear it on the pager. If you want me to shoot, tell me and I'll shoot." He said "Shoot one straight up", so I did. The back-up plan was formed. Luckily my battery held out. I did do alot of shooting so that they could all close in on us. It seemed to take an eternity, but we finally were within shouting range. A few moments later I saw Tony come crashing through the brush with about 9 people right behind him. From the time dad radioed me that they were heading into the woods, it was about 15 minutes and they had made it to us. The ambulance crew was made up of a driver, brand new EMT, and an EMT who's licensed, but is not allowed to be the only "EMT" on duty.(long story) I told them that I was taking control of the scene and I was going to be the EMT in charge.
We backboarded him and put out the fire. Took alot of stomping!! Tony radioed out to the personnel left in the gravel pit to turn on a siren. They did and we could barely hear it. We set off though the woods. Grampa was a husky man. He weighed in the neighborhood of 240-250 pounds and it wasn't all fat. That's alot of weight to be lugging through this terrain. The entire trip out of the woods consisted of stopping to rest. One of the firefighters (Dave) had an injured arm and shouldn't have been there in the first place, but when someone needs help, any member of the fire dept would gladly sacrifice to help as he did. The rest of the trip was slow, tedious and miserable. Moral was still up with everybody. We lugged and lugged, up over fallen trees, under some, around others, trudged through the undergrowth and obstacles. Every 1 minute we would hear the siren blow and alter course. It took us 2 1/2 hours to lug him out of the woods, over the distance of approximately 1 mile.
We reached the gravel pit and there was the ambulance, rescue truck, my BOV and alot of other vehicles. My aunt and uncle, and other aunt and uncle and cousin were there, there were alot of other concerned people from town who had heard dad on the scanner and came out. A nice thing that happened that night, out of all the bystanders who showed up because they heard it on the scanner, I don't believe that one, not a single one came just to see what happened. I believe that they all came to make sure that we got out of the woods ok and that everyone was alright. Grampa had alot of friends and when someone hears something on the scanner, the whole town knows about it in a matter of minutes. There were quite a few long time friends there to meet us when we arrived in the pit...talk about a warm welcome.
We still didn't waste time. Grampa was still very hypothermic. He was loaded into the ambulance. I got in the back and nicely announced to the crew that I was still in charge. I wasn't trying to tick them off, they understood why I wanted to be in charge. By state law I can do that, even though I no longer work on the service, I was the senior EMT on board and had the most experience plus he was my grampa. I also wanted gramma to know that I was still with him and I was the EMT. That made her feel alot better. It also was more comforting to grampa to have me than to have someone he didn't know. I got a quick set of vital signs..I can't remember specifics other than they weren't all that great. I then told the driver he could go. Enroute I took his temperature....the thermometer said 91 farenheit...that's weird...as cold as he was. I didn't quite believe it. The heater in the ambulance was cranked up and I started cutting his clothes off. I had to cut his brand new wool hunting vest that the family gave him for his birthday a month prior. There was no other way around it...had to cut it...thinking...gramma's gonna kill me!!! Then we applied dry blankets and hot packs. ALS/ACLS was called while enroute.
The ride to the hospital in Ellsworth was good. Upon arrival we were directed to take him to one of the trauma rooms in the ER. We transferred him to an ER bed. The doc's brought in the portable x-ray machine and x-rayed his leg. Their thermometers read his body temperature in the mid-high 70’s…and he’s still alive and kicking!! A few minutes later after they developed the film, it showed that he had a complete femur fracture. WOW. I knew grampa had a high pain tolerance, but not that high.
Aunt Kathy and Uncle Ron showed up at the hospital with grandma. We spent a long night there until we were sure he was going to be ok. The decision was made that night with grampa for DNR (do-not-resuscitate) orders. Very hard decision. Grampa said it himself, no machines. All of the family whole heartedly agreed with him. What’s the point in living?
After he was discharged from the hospital he was admitted to an assisted living center. He had his ups and downs. He wanted to be home, but there was no way that the family could possibly be there for his every need. His mind state really started to go downhill. On August 2, 2002 the day after my 21st b-day, mom called me at work and said that the grampa had started to go downhill badly and wasn’t expected to live the next 24 hours. I talked to the supervisor at work and I got out on "emergency leave" for the weekend. I went to Ellsworth (90 miles away) to see grampa. He was laying on his bed and unable to move or speak. He could still hear. I stayed there late that night and went back early the next morning. Saturday was spent there and his condition worsened. I had to leave. I went home Saturday night and went to bed. My phone rang at about 6:30 Sunday morning. Grampa had died a little while prior. Atleast it was over and for the better.
While I was there with him, I thought back asfar as I could. I spent a lot of time with grampa when I was a kid. He taught me how to lobster fish, cut & bail hay, cut firewood, how to dumpster dive and scrounge. He was a good scrounger. Anything you wanted he could find it. He also corrupted me and taught me that Cheerios are no good unless you put the sugar to them and it never hurts to wash it down with Pepsi. That didn’t settle too well with mom & dad, but oh well. During summer vacation and on weekends we always went to camp. He taught me how to row a boat and would send me off into the harbor on my own. He always made sure that the skiff was tied off to shore. Once I got a little older (8-9) he took the rope off and let me row around the harbor un-tethered, but constantly made sure the tide wasn’t pulling me out of the harbor. When I was like 10, Uncle Mike built me a small rowboat for my b-day. I finally had my own boat. Grampa let me use a small canoe outboard so I didn’t have to row all the time. For a 10-11 year old kid, with his own boat and motor, I couldn’t have been happier. I put a lot of miles on that boat, just riding around the harbor fishing.
When the weather was good, we’d get in his boat and head out to "haul" pull lobster traps. He usually had about
I did a lot with grampa. I wish time would reverse and I could be a kid again doing all that fun stuff. I can’t, grampa’s gone and life goes on.
I just thought I’d write this survival story even though it wasn’t me who needed the surviving. There’s a lot of good points made and a good learning experience.
I talked to the dispatcher the next day on Thanksgiving. We talked for a long time on the phone. I thanked and thanked him, and he of course told me not to worry about it. He got the complete story then. He also said that when he heard somebody else using my call # he figured something was up. He heard the # and thought "who the hail’s that?" and it really caught his attention. He told me what it was like on his end. He was just as nervous as I was. He didn’t know the exact situation whether it was a hunting accident, somebody got shot or what….he just thought…what has Eli gotten himself into this time.
In ending I greatly thank and commend the Cherryfield Volunteer Fire Dept, Cherryfield Ambulance Service, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and my dad for a job well done. Thanks also extended to JW for keeping tabs on me and ensuring that I was ok during the last few months. Thanks, Jon!
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